What’s Going On

Missus

So I’m sitting here on a snowy afternoon at the end of December and I have to say I’m not sure what day it is. I think it’s Thursday?

Between holidays, storms, and school vacation days, it’s all become a blur of candlelight, chocolate gelt, wrapping paper, cellophane bags of sweet things I shouldn’t be eating, new books, classic movies, sparkling lights, eggnog, and a scattering of appointments here and there.

I’ve lost my fragile hold on my internal calendar.

Okay, I’ve verified my hunch with the computer’s calendar and don’t feel like a complete dope. December the 29th. We’re within arm’s reach of the end of 2016, which I think many of us can agree has been a bit of a disaster.

As if we weren’t on our knees already, the universe sees fit to take Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds just as we thought we might sneak under the wire and leave this year quietly behind.

Well.

I don’t know a soul who hasn’t lost someone dear to them this year. I feel foolish in my sadness at the loss of two women I’ve never met. I know I should feel this grief for the thousands of Syrians who lost their lives this year. For the children who met their fate with a bullet. For the families who never made it from one shore to the other. But it’s too large for me to feel it all, and instead I’m vacuuming the house while singing “Good Morning” with tears in my eyes.

So maybe this is how we compartmentalize a larger grief, and how we share with a world of other hearts a general outcry at the unfairness of time and mortality.

But that’s not what I want to think about here on the brink of the year. I want to think about the snow falling down, quiet as a candle, erasing the sky and pulling a discreet white sheet over the earth.

I want to think about this goofy, faithful dog, with just a little bit of grey on his chin, curled into an “O” in front of the fire.

I want to think about a tall daughter, sitting at this same table, listening to music as she draws, still here under our roof.

I want to think about a tender husband about to get into his car to drive home to us through this storm, on tires that are fast friends with snow and ice.

I want to imagine Al Green crooning to the mated pair of cardinals who are visiting our feeder today, to the chickadees, to the nuthatches, to the woodpeckers, to the blue jays, to the juncos, to the tufted titmice, to the woman with the camera: Let’s all stay together.

Winter solstice resolutions

Birches

Resolved: to forego a proper solstice sunrise photo and substitute instead a photo of favorite birch trees. They are as beautiful as any old sun, and throw off their glow all year round. What’s not in the picture is the dog, who is a boat in my gaze’s current, floating directly in line with wherever I point the camera. Sometimes I can fool him by focusing on something to my left or right, then swinging quickly back to the original object of my lens’ desire. In this photo, he’s just to the left, and I cropped him out. Not because he’s not beautiful, but because he isn’t a birch tree.

Resolved: to forego a proper solstice poem and substitute instead a poem by Wallace Stevens:

Valley Candle

My candle burned alone in an immense valley.
Beams of the huge night converged upon it,
Until the wind blew.
Then beams of the huge night
Converged upon its image,
Until the wind blew.

I love this poem because it has so many possible interpretations, a mood ring of a poem that means what I want it to mean on any given reading. Today his valley is my valley. Today, this house is the candle. The solstice is the huge night, and the promise of the sun’s return is the beams. The wind, of course, is the wind. The dog is standing next to me, staring at the cat on his bed, willing the cat to move or me to move the cat. And all I do is try to point out the second, empty dog bed, a mere three feet further from me than the first. For the dog, perhaps I am the candle, and the dog bed is the immense valley, and the cat is the wind.

Resolved: to forego a proper solstice song and substitute one I didn’t know existed until about four hours ago, because it mentions cold, and because Joan Shelley writes songs I can listen to endlessly. Shelley is from Kentucky so maybe her thermometer is different from mine, but either way this song feels suited to the day, while I’m writing by the fire and the sun has slipped behind the hill and the snow is brittle and shiny with ice.

Fire warms and fire burns
Now I’ve learned
The cost of the cold.

When I started writing this, I felt so full of resolve, but now I feel tired, worn small and smooth by the endless rush of the day and the hurry to make hay while the sun glides just inches above the horizon. I pine for long summer days, but there’s an unrecognizable part of me that relishes these early, switched off evenings, when so little is expected.

Tomorrow we gain less than a tenth of a second of daylight. We won’t feel it much, but our bones will somehow know it, our hearts will somehow sing it, and our hands will set to their work. There’s so much to do, and so much light to gather in.

p.s. Forget my resolve, I need to share this solstice poem by Liz Lochead with you, because, well, you’ll see.

356 : 366

A long calling down the wind

The other day the phrase “time and the flying snow” drifted from the sky onto my computer keyboard as if released from the clouds. But it didn’t come from the atmosphere. It was released from my memory. Long memory.

The phrase is the title of a book of songs, sheet music by Gordon Bok, a book I bought years ago when I believed I could learn to play the songs on my guitar. One specific song, really. I was ambitious and very wrong about my ability. I could strum a tune with a few basic chords, but my talent, or perhaps it was my persistence, went no further than that.

I still have the guitar, though I haven’t picked it up in years. The book is somewhere, too, though I haven’t seen it lately. But the song, that I do have. Not every word and note because it’s a long song, but phrases that worm their way up into my mouth now and then the way stones in the New England soil find their way to the surface in a spring garden.

Don’t you wonder about the mystery of memory and music? It’s like the mystery of memory and smell. You know how, when you go through the front door into a house you’ve never been in before, and you smell the residue of slow-cooking onions, and you know that even though your body has never moved through that house before, you know that smell, from your grandmother’s house, say. And then not just any day of cooked onions comes to you, but a very particular day riddled with the particular sounds and tastes, pleasures and hurts, worries and choices, and the particular angle of the sunlight that eases through the front curtains around 4 in the afternoon. And her voice, calling your name, as if nothing had ever changed or slipped away. A voice from far away, or is it just the wind?

It’s like looking backwards through a telescope so that everything from that moment is tiny yet visible, contained and embraced in the gaze of single, unblinking eye.

That’s what a song does, too, doesn’t it? It’s a ticket on an express train right to some moment when you are ten, or maybe twelve, sitting in the apartment of your mother’s friend, and your mother and her friend are drinking coffee (you can still smell that, too) and talking about something that you don’t care to know about, but there’s a record collection and the friend says put anything you want on the turntable and you see this song takes an entire side of a record album so how can you resist that?

And the needle makes a miracle, transfers the sound from the vinyl to the speakers to your ears to your memory to this moment.

And you play the song again today, in a different room, in the library where your daughter volunteers one afternoon a week, your daughter who is on the tippy edge of launching herself into her own life. Soon, very soon, but not quite yet. And when she smells onions, she’ll remember home.

Time and the flying snow*

I just wanna be here with youThe time of snow has come.

This is now a waiting time.

All my effort every day is going into the waiting.

Or the holding still in the waiting. Or the being busy in the waiting. Or the restless flicking of fingers or searching the white white white for that one red-splash cardinal.

Or the remembering to breathe in the waiting. Or the looking over my shoulder in the waiting.

Or the flipping through magazine pages in the waiting. Or listening to the snow melt off the roof in a drip drip drip.

I took my watch off in hopes that it would make time foreign. But time is internal and part of my blood. My blood, which quite likely is rushing too quickly from heart to fingers and back again. Like thoughts. Like birds.

These little birds are staving off death every minute, flying back and forth between the feeder full of sunflower seeds and the cold, bare trees.

They’re not waiting. They just are. They’re living in spite of the dying. Getting on with living while the daylight is on their wings.

Take a lesson, right?

I just want
I wanna be here with you
Not bracing for what comes next
I’ve got some new words
I can see sideways
If there’s a limit
It hasn’t found me yet

My friend is an artist
Doesn’t fit in
Lost a front tooth
Can’t keep a job
But the things you make
Are so beautiful
They bring me joy
Don’t you ever stop

The hungry fools
Who rule the world can’t catch us
Surely they can’t ruin everything

I just want
I wanna be here with you…

*”Time and the Flying Snow” is a book of songs by Gordon Bok, which reminds me of another song I want to share with you.

Heck, yes! I mean no!

Even I can admit I’m good at some things. I’m good at taking care of animals. And checking things off my to-do list (and even better at putting things on it that I’ve already done just so I can feel good about checking them off). I’m good at baking. And I’m good at taking someone else’s good idea and making it happen.

Of the many things I am not good at, saying “no” is the thing I’m perhaps best at not being good at. If you know what I mean.

But I mean to learn. I really really do. At this particular point in history, in fact, I feel it’s my duty to learn to say “no,” and my duty to make sure our daughter knows how to say it, too.

But I don’t think I’m going to have to worry about that. She’s as strong in her convictions as any young woman I know, and vocal about them, and it’s thanks to her that I know today’s song. It’s one of those songs that sounds so 2010 generic to me that I likely would have turned the radio dial if I’d heard it without H’s introduction, but..

No … listen to what she’s really saying and then get to the chorus and, well, isn’t that just darn fun to sing at the top of your voice?

Sure, it’s just a song. It’s just a small word. It’s just one tiny grain of pop defiance. But I’ll take my reminders where I can, and a catchy tune doesn’t hurt either.

You and I and moonlight

You and I and moonlight

Whenever we watch “The Simpsons,” we’re always happily amazed by the convoluted plots they’re able to squeeze into an episode. How they can start at scene one with, say, Lisa getting a pet goldfish and end up 23 minutes later deep in a story about an opera performance that will save the town of Springfield from space aliens who won the Earth in a game of poker. How do they do it?

But isn’t that just like life? If you let yourself move from moment to moment, you just never know where you’ll end up. The path between two points is rarely a straight line.

Like today, when I woke up with a song from “Hamilton” in my head (as I tend to do most days), and I thought it was inevitable that I’d be writing about one of those songs here.

A few hours later I found a link I’d emailed myself a year ago, a song by Leon Bridges that I’d wanted to remember (and promptly forgot). I played it and it blew my mind all over again, how much this young man reminded me of Sam Cooke. I swayed and nodded through his debut album all afternoon.

The fires cooled and dusk dropped over the hill and suddenly there was the moon climbing the maple tree. Lovely Leon was forgotten. Ella Fitzgerald can do that to anyone.

I swear I had a point I wanted to make here, but I’m tired and moon dazzled and we’ve traveled far since this morning. The thread of my day is in knots, but it’s nothing that can’t be untangled by a lullaby and a gentle night’s sleep.

Where webs of snow are drifting

Snow sky

Snow has already come and gone several times in the last few weeks, but today’s snow has a feeling of permanence about it, as if it’s going to become the bedding layer for a winter-long sedimentary cover. Or, as Christina’s Rosetti put it:

Earth stood hard as iron, water like stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow.

I could be wrong. It could all melt tomorrow, but even if it does, this Monday snow is the harbinger: It’s coming. The locking in and locking down. The lights, the fires, the snowshoes, the shovels. The cocoa, the latkes. The frozen gate latch, the frozen water buckets. The hot water buckets, the snowflakes on goat lashes. The jumble of boots by the door, the hoping for a snow day call from school. The thick novel,  the hot water bottle. The post office trips, the cinnamon tea.

If it’s not here already, it’s coming.

Let’s bake cookies. Let’s reenact our traditions. Let’s create stories to share. Let’s play games. Let’s fortify ourselves with song. Let’s power on the turntable and put those old records on. Yes, that one, the one that rings in the first real snowfall of the year. And then let’s sing along.

Simply Sunday and the bees

Sunday finds us two girls holiday shopping. We’ve left the boy at home because we’re shopping for, among other people, him. But that doesn’t mean we can’t stop by the coolest clothing store in the area just for a little look-see.

They’re so cool they’re not playing Christmas music. In the way of the universe, they’re playing Simply Red. Hey, didn’t I just mention Simply Red the other day?

I like this kind of magic where all I have to do is think or write a thing and I make it real. I wonder if I could use this power for something more important. I could set the world right. I could change the future. I could make Mondays a permanent holiday.

No such luck. My powers are puny and I am tired. (I had an idea to write about the beauty of repetition, seeing as I keep repeating myself and the themes of time and years and backwards longing, but, it’s late. Can we discuss this another time?)

We’ve bought a pair of bee earrings at the shop (bee shaped, that is, not earrings for bees, though wouldn’t those be darling and cunning?) and examined the chunky scarves (too expensive, not soft enough). By then we’ve shopped enough, I suppose, and want to get home. Our sleigh is filled with gifts. The bees fly home in H’s ears.

This song is still playing in mine.